Behind the glamorous life of celebrated hairstylist Adir Abergel lies a powerful story of survival, grit, and purpose.
As an eight-year-old boy, following the arrest of his activist father, Adir had to leave Israel for the USA, not seeing his parents for a further 23 years. Arriving in Hollywood, into very modest circumstances with little knowledge of the English language, he refused to be a victim, instead beginning a journey that at 11 had him touring as a singer with Michael Jackson, and at 13 moving solo to New York.
Soon after, back in Los Angeles, he embarked on what was to become the genesis of a brilliant career trajectory which took him from being mentored in a Beverly Hills salon by some of Tinseltown’s brightest female stars, such as Tina Turner and Julie Christie, to styling and befriending some of today’s most celebrated women — including Reese Witherspoon, Kristen Stewart, and Jennifer Garner. Most recently, he also took on the role of Creative Director of Virtue Labs, a leading biotech hair care company.
In all aspects of his life, Adir manages to maintain a childlike wonder, a veritable joy that enthralls all who he comes into contact with, including his almost 800,000 Instagram followers. We interviewed Adir at his home in LA, discussing the merits of inner peace, positivity, the value of mentorship and much more, as the subject of this week’s ‘Who the F*** Are You?’ questionnaire, aimed at getting the the heart of what really matters.
Who the f*** are you?
My name’s Adir Abergel. People have given me the term FTA, which means ‘friend to all’. I am a lover. I am a husband. I am someone who is highly sensitive. I love humans. I love connection. I love making women feel powerful and confident through my craft.
How are you feeling right now?
I’m exhausted with getting things put up my nose and tested every two minutes!
But I’m super optimistic about 2022. I really think that incredible things are coming for us this year. For me, I’m inspired because life is so multi-layered. Society thinks of you in a certain way, or wants to put you in a certain box. But I love innovation. So my haircare line [Virtue Labs] is not just a product line for me. This is really a way to change the haircare industry. That’s a huge mission of mine, to constantly build that ability to get healthy hair, because hair care has been so stagnant. It’s been all the same ingredients for a hundred years. And ours is truly a biotech hair company. We started the process around nine years ago and it’s been out on the global market for four years now. I brought in Jennifer Garner as a partner as well, later on. It’s been incredible, and keeps me optimistic.
Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
So there is, I would say, a duality in my life. I was born in Israel. Both my parents are from Morocco. And I grew up in Jerusalem in the Old City. My mom was an artist and my dad [Reuven Abergel] was the founder of the Black Panther movement [in Israel].
When Israel was being formed after World War II, two groups of Jews moved back to the holy land. One were Ashkenazi Jews, and the other group were Sephardic Jews. The Sephardic Jews were people from the Middle East and the Ashkenazis were more usually the white Jews who were considered to be from Poland and Russia etc.
When my father moved there, as a Moroccan Jew, we were put into the slums, with all of the Arabs. We were considered to be darker Jews, even though we look white, but our blood was not of the European Jews, who were put into the much better neighborhoods. He became a kind of anti-Zionist, and a human rights activist, and using a similar model to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, started the Black Panther movement there. He had a huge following. And so I grew up in that environment, with my dad who began this movement in the basement of our house.
I grew up in Israel until I was the age of eight, and then my dad was put into jail for trying to overthrow the Israeli government. So I moved here to the States with my auntie, and left my entire family behind.
I moved to Los Angeles, across the street from the Guitar Center, in 1986. So it was the dichotomy of coming from Israel, where I only spoke Hebrew, and was fighting for human rights with my dad, to all of a sudden being on Sunset Boulevard. And it was definitely a shock! First of all, coming from incredible open-mindedness to a home that was more close-minded. They were just very simple people. He drove a taxi. My auntie was a cleaning woman. Super simple.
Secondly, there was a different language. The environment wasn’t easy. I arrived dressed in torn t-shirts, to all of a sudden having to wear button down shirts to conform to this new household. It was complicated, but it was amazing at the same time, because it kind of allowed me to explore even more of myself creatively.
But I did not see my parents for another 23 years. We didn’t [stay in touch] a lot. Once in a while I would get on a phone call with them. And, by the age of 13, I got up and moved to New York on my own. I ran away with the hopes of being a classical ballet dancer.
I think when you have such a hard childhood in that sense, but you know that you have so much more to say, nothing holds you back. It’s that drive. I mean, by 11, I was touring with Michael Jackson as a singer for We Are the World. Then I went around the country, singing with Brandy, for my junior high school.
I lived in New York until I was 15. And then I moved back to LA and decided to go to hair school. Within months, I ended up landing this enormous job in Beverly Hills, as a hair assistant to a guy named Arthur Johns, who I didn’t know was a big deal, but ended up being a very big deal. I was just this kid who heard someone was looking for an assistant, and I was like, “Oh, great, let me get on a bus, and go to Beverly Hills, and convince him that he should hire me, and I should work for him, that I should quit school, so he could be my mentor.” And I did, I convinced him.
So I grew up in this salon, and [his clients were] Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, Olivia Newton John, Julie Christie, Diahann Carroll, Eva Marie Saint. All of these women literally raised me from the age of 15, until I was 21 years old. It was amazing. We would do Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale every week. And by the time I left him, I had been helping him run his business. I was applying all the color, I was prepping, I was doing a lot of the scheduling. I worked for him for almost seven years and I loved it. He wanted to murder me when I left him and I didn’t talk to him for a couple of years! But now he’s remains one of my closest friends. Arthur Johns really affected me, because he really gave me a sense of a gift, which is art. He shared his art with me and the nurture of having stability for the first time in a very long time.
What excites you?
Literally the endless possibilities in life. That you could truly f***ing be anything, do anything, imagine anything. A huge part for me as well, I think, is mentorship. There’s nothing that I love more than raising the next generation of thinkers and lovers and artists. That is something that I think probably comes from my dad. You know, the idea of giving back somehow.
I need to work with others for me to be at my optimum creative. I’m not great at doing it alone. That’s how I feed. I can come up with a billion ideas with other people. Alone, I can come up with the ideas, but I don’t want to execute it the same way. It’s all about people. Truly building teams has, for me, brought the most growth.
By the way, it’s exhausting getting things done. It takes a lot. There is a lot of prep, you have to evangelize a lot of people, you know what I mean? But I could work 19 billion hours a day. How much do I love it, honestly. It’s the idea of creating more. Life is so short and what do you do with this time? You have to believe so deeply that others believe. Because if you don’t, how will anyone else?
What scares you?
Not working on my mental health. I find that one of the most powerful tools in our life is our mental health. And it’s very easy to be dragged into life on a daily basis without taking the time to work on this incredible, powerful tool.
For so many years there was so much shame when speaking about the mental element of health. There is incredible medication today. There are amazing apps. I think that there are incredible support systems available. There’s no longer the kind of shame around it all that we grew up with.
So I’m really, really into trying to help yourself as much as you can. It’s one of my favorite things. But it’s also the part that scares me the most, not having the ability to do that. It is not an easy fix. It’s a conscious decision that you have to make on a daily basis, it’s something that you have to implement into your life.
The consciousness with my social media, for me, is that I want to bring the light and the happiness into the world. That’s my mission. Not to say that I don’t have days that I’m sad. Perhaps you go into a little depression, you feel like shit for a second, then you want to hide away, you don’t want to talk to people, and you don’t want to see them. But then you’re like, “Okay, well shut the f*** up, and let’s start this over again.” That is the reality, right? But I understand that we all have a purpose. And for me, it’s connecting with people, and bringing happiness, and dancing. That’s part of my gift.
There are no shortcuts in life. There really aren’t. It’s what I’ve learned. Maybe you got lucky, and I don’t know, you sold a bunch of Bitcoins and made billions… but by the way, you’re still going to have to deal with yourself.
What is your proudest achievement?
The relationships in my life, by far. I’ve had my agents for 25 years. [Publicist] Beth Klein has been with me for 15 years. My husband [Marcelo Freire] for 15 years. All my assistants are some of my greatest friends. My clients — Jen Garner, I’ve been doing for 22 years. Reese Witherspoon, Anne Hathaway, Kristen Stewart since she was 15 years old. All of these amazing humans in my life are true relationships, by far the greatest achievement.
Weirdly enough, you would think that I’m an extrovert, but really, ultimately, I’m an introvert. I really like my alone time. I like being alone, but I’m also a lover. So when I’m with people, I love them. But when I’m not, I could totally isolate, and not get bored, but be content.
I always tell everyone, “If you are depressed, go and be of service.” Because you think that you need to work more on yourself, but ultimately it’s more about others. It’s so true. It is so f***ing true.
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
I think one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do was to leave my parents in Israel.
I remember getting on that escalator, turning back and looking at my mom, and realizing that I truly was not going to see her for a very, very long time, but that I was still loved deeply. Because I really was. I was so loved by these humans. It’s not that they did it because they didn’t love me. It was actually an act of deep love. And thank God that I knew that, because it’s a lot harder when you’ve grown up without being seen, without having that sort of kindness early on in your life. So I always knew that. Even though my life had become very difficult post that experience, pre that, I knew that I was loved.
I understood very young that a lot of people have heartache in their life, and it’s just our story, right? And I also somehow understood that history is a big element of what we come into. I understood the hardship that my family came into, that they were carrying, and that I had the chance to change that narration.
So that’s my outlook, that I understand that we come with this layered history, and that I have the chance to change that path, and to forgive all of it.
If you sit down and talk to people, everyone has a story. I don’t care if they came from wealth, their pain could be heavier than my pain, because of the way that they translated it into their own world.
Who is your greatest mentor and what did they teach you?
It’s layered. Because my greatest mentors are the women that have sat in my chair throughout the history of me doing what I do. Most of the women that I get to work with are… we call them actors, but they’re really artists. And they are incredible, amazing people. They are mothers. They are sisters. They are business owners. They are creators. So I’ve had very deep, amazing relationships where you think that there is a difference in power, but really what has happened over the years is that we’ve become friends, and the power shifts.
Watching them… like I remember meeting Maria Sharapova after she had won Wimbledon, and being around this 17-year-old kid, who was so smart, such a self-starter, and understood so much. I used to leave the jobs being like, “Wow, I respect this person so much, and the way that they’re approaching their life.”
And so, my girls, for sure. The women in my life.
Who are your fictional and real life heroes?
Fictional, Peter Pan. For sure. Because you should always be a kid. You should always keep that spirit. I think the minute that we lose that playfulness in our life, it’s over.
Real life heroes? I would say the people that impress me most in this life are people who fight for other people. Because I find that to be such a selfless act. These frontline workers, people who work watching people taking their last breath in life.
I just went through this with my assistant, Lori. Her mom just passed away. I would call her every day and the women that came to take care of this woman, and the dignity to help her exit in that way… I wish that for every single human being, because wow. We come in with somebody, but we don’t always leave with somebody. You always have your mom there to bring you into this world. But a lot of the time, people die alone. Don’t make me cry…
Everyone has their gift, and it’s finding that gift, and then amplifying it.
What is your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?
Kaftans. It has to be kaftans. I have to wear something loose at home all the time, and they’re just part of my everyday wardrobe.
What music did you love at age 13 and do you still love it now?
I grew up listening to hip-hop, and Missy Elliott, Aaliyah. And yes, I still listen to it a lot. Now I listen a little bit more to Nina Simone, and I tend to go a little more melancholy for some reason. Her and Al Green, Bill Withers, all of these incredible greats.
What is the most inspirational book you have ever read?
A book that stayed with me, and will always stay with me, is ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck. I loved that book so much. Just Lennie, Lennie, Lennie. That sweet, beautiful soul. I don’t know why. He always stayed with me. His innocence. For us to have compassion as humans. It was that connection.
What is a movie that left a lasting impression on you?
I mean, there’s so many! But I love ‘Blow-Up’. It’s just visually so stimulating for me. ‘Shampoo’, hilarious. Julie Christie in ‘Doctor Zhivago’, oh my god. ‘Clockwork Orange’ I watched when I was 11 and I remember so vividly freaking out, it was so violent. ‘The Shining’, I mean, Kubrick. There’s so many, literally, thousands of amazing movies that inspire me. It’s endless.
What is your favorite word or saying?
I have, still, on my voicemail, the same voicemail that I’ve had since I was 15 years old, where I said, “Let’s be happy to be alive.” And so that’s, I would say, my motto for life in general.
What do you want people to say at your funeral?
Wow. That’s going to make me cry. That I was kind. That we had a good time. That I loved others. Yeah, that’s it.
Finally, a quickfire five favorites…
Oh, a Porsche, even though I drive a Tesla. For sure. But I have to be a little bit more conscious. I really f***ing want my Porsche back, but I just can’t.
Lakers, because I’m from LA. And then the Broncos, because they’re the best.
Home-cooked. Anything home-cooked. A beautiful tagine, a great salad. Anything not from a restaurant. I love cooking.
Virtue Labs Un-Frizz Cream mixed with my healing oil. Best combo.
Kapital. A Japanese label. They’re amazing. I’ve been buying them for 10 years.
And I also love Haider Ackermann, everything Haider. The color combinations and the way that he puts his shows together, the styling, it’s actually so brilliant.
Prior to Daniel [Roseberry, creative director], the original Elsa Schiaparelli was literally one of my favorites.
Brunello Cucinelli. For anything soft, it’s the only brand that I would want to wear.
And then for easy, everyday, I love Acne. I think they do beautiful, simple, great, wearable stuff.